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Message in a Bottle Starts Warm Hearted Tradition

By: Stephen Carr

Date Posted: 2000-05-13

When Kinser Elementary School was celebrating its tenth anniversary, teacher George Price took a dive boat out between Kinser and the Kerama Islands and with the help of a student threw ten bottles into the East China Sea. The empty wine and champagne bottles each contained notes saying “If you pick up this bottle, please let us know”. They also included descriptions of the school and that it was celebrating its anniversary.

That was in March 1997. Eight months later, four fourth grade boys from Ohama Elementary School , on Ishigaki Island , 500 km from Okinawa, were walking on the beach when they found one of the bottles. They couldn’t get the cork out, so the bottle was smashed to get at the carefully rolled up paper inside.

They took it to their Vice Principal Mr Gaja, who translated it and told the school about it. On Christmas day that year Ohama fourth grade students sent a package back. It contained letters, origami creations and swatches of material. The main message from the Ohama students was “We want to be friends with you and study English too”. The two schools decided the that the finding of the message in a bottle rated more than postal communication. They decided to visit eachother and in February six Kinser students and five adults, including the Principal Dr Judith Allen caught a ferry to Ishigaki Island, where they received an ecstatic welcome.

The Kinser group got a taste of the local culture: sleeping on tatami mats, sampling local food, visiting cultural sights and enjoying the beautiful beaches.

Then next October 60 students and six adults from Ohama, including the Principal Mr Hirota, had their turn to visit Kinser for the day. Their two buses appeared to loud cheers and the visitors were treated to a show in the auditorium and congratulatory speeches from both sides. There were songs, dances and performances.

Since then visits to each school from the other have become a tradition. On Monday students from Kinser again boarded a ferry for a three day trip to Ishigaki. They will be taken on a glass bottomed boat tour, go hiking, attend a barbecue and campfire with a talent show and skits performance. A competition and cultural exchange will also be on the program. They return today, May 11th.

To finance the trip Kinser organized a runathon, sold cookery books and baked cakes. These endeavors raised $6,100 which will pay for ferry tickets board and lodging for the students on the island.

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